Maguire visited a refugee camp for internally displaced people in Bentiu in South Sudan with humanitarian aid agency Concern Worldwide earlier this year and has created a collection of paintings and drawings entitled HUMANITY site unseen, which put a spotlight on the plight of conflict affected populations.
President Michael D. Higgins was among those who attended the launch of the exhibition at the RHA Gallery, with Maguire stating that he hoped to tackle the invisibility of those affected by conflict through his work.
“This is one of the biggest issues facing the world today… conflict driving millions of people from their homes, often unseen by the world. The poorer you are, the more invisible you are. I’ve always been interested in rendering the invisible, visible.”
The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan has grown to epic proportions, with an inestimable number of people killed and a third of South Sudan’s 12 million population having fled their homes since the latest civil war erupted in 2013.
Concern Worldwide is providing shelter, clean water and lifesaving nutritional support to those affected by the conflict and during his time in Bentiu, Maguire created drawings of many of those living in the Protection of Civilians camp.
“The one thing about the drawing of people is that you’re immediately immersed in beauty, the beauty of the individual. When you’re drawing an adult, you’re beginning to deal with that adult’s experience and sometimes, you see that experience in a person. We all carry our lives in our faces.”
He also carried out painting workshops with children, many of whom have been traumatised by the war.
“Amongst all these drawings, you’ll find the most beautiful things. The drawing is beautiful, the use of colour is beautiful, it’s abstract, it’s optimistic… it’s as a child should be. But if you look closer, you’ll find in some of them that there is a child who has painted the house he lost, another child will have painted the guns used to kill his brother.
“There was one boy who was the first to draw the guns. This very ordinary homestead with people and houses but instead of the sun, this boy drew a gun. It’s like this little drawing actually told the greater truth, that this camp in its entirety is under the threat of violence. The overarching reality is that it is under the gun.”
Several of the drawings created in Bentiu will be on display at the exhibition, alongside three large-scale acrylic-on-linen paintings that capture the vast scale of the camps, where over 120,000 people are currently living.
Ahead of the launch of the exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy on Friday 7 September, Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley said that Brian’s work gave a true sense of the loss felt within the communities living in the PoC camp.
“The fact is that today there are 40 million people around the world that have lost their homes and are living as displaced communities, within their own countries, as a result of conflict and violence. You don’t see them on the news, their plight is underreported. They are unseen and their voices unheard. We invited Brian Maguire to visit South Sudan to capture the humanity of ordinary people struggling to survive. We chose Brian because of his empathy and passion for social justice.”